Operation Medicine Drop Aims To Protect Kids, Waterways

BERLIN — In an effort to protect the health of both area residents and waterways, Worcester County will hold Operation Medicine Drop (OMD) on April 30.

“We really want to ensure that unused medications are disposed of responsibly,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams during a press conference last Friday.

Kathy Phillips, executive director or Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT) and Coastkeeper, described OMD as a “partnership effort” between several county and municipal agencies whose overall goal was to keep “families safe [and] waters healthy.”

Phillips said the initiative is meant to encourage residents of Worcester to bring any unused or unwanted medicines to drop-off sites on April 30 between 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Phillips said last year’s OMD was successful and hoped that it would be even more so this year.

Phillips explained that if unused medications were not disposed of properly, they often were either taken accidently or flushed down the toilet, which caused significant damage to the area’s waterways.

Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing added that a lot of people were “self-prescribing” themselves expired or otherwise questionable medications.

“That is not a safe practice to encourage,” he said.

Katherine Gunby, coordinator of special programs for the Worcester County Health Department (WCHD), said keeping unused medications was especially dangerous for any children in the household. A 2009 report from the Maryland Poison Center revealed that about 60 percent of the calls for exposure they received that year had to do with children under the age of six. Additionally, that same year the majority of exposures to dangerous substances came in the form of the exact medications OMD is hoping to collect, such as pain relievers and antidepressants.

“Let’s dispose of these medications in a safe manner,” Gunby urged county residents.

Besides the health risks to people, the flushing or otherwise improper disposal of medications can be just as dangerous to area wildlife, especially marine life.

“It is harmful and irresponsible to flush them [medications] down the toilet or to pour them down the drain in your sink,” ” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

Williams pointed out that Berlin was in the final stages of a Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade that would provide the town with a high level of coverage. However, he remarked that even the best treatment plant available could not filter out the prescription or over-the-counter medications that wind up in the water system.

“Basically, they pass right through,” he said.

When those medications make their way into the watershed, they often have devastating effects on the ecosystem. Phillips explained that large doses of hormones and similar drugs could confuse fish, impairing their mating cycles and hurting population growth. Other medications could have equally negative effects on marine life.

“It’s a matter of changing habits,” said Phillips.

Joining the town of Berlin, WCHD, and ACT in organizing the operation will be the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Drop-off locations will include the Pocomoke Health Center, Show Hill Health Department, Berlin Town Hall and both the West Ocean City and Ocean Pines Food Lion stores. Drugs should be sealed in plastic bags and stripped of identification labels.